How Long Can Mac and Cheese Sit Out

How Long Can Mac & Cheese Sit Out? Solved (Updated)

Last Updated on June 13, 2024 by Shari Mason

It is undeniable that mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food. The combination of melted cheese and smooth, creamy pasta instantly transports you back to childhood memories. Keeping this dish on hand is a wise choice, allowing you to enjoy its delectable taste whenever the desire arises.

However, storing mac and cheese needs some special care. If you’re unsure how long can mac and cheese sit out, continue reading.

How Long Should You Let Mac & Cheese Sit Out? 

You should let a cooked mac and cheese sit for no longer than two hours, like other hot food items (especially perishable ones).

If you let it sit for more than two hours, bacteria can grow quickly at temperatures ranging from 41°F to 135°F (the temperature danger zone), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As for a boxed mac and cheese recipe, like Kraft macaroni (or Kraft mac and cheese), it may considerably have a longer shelf life because it is dry. Depending on the expiration date, you can store it for years.

However, the flavor of instant mac and cheese will fade over time.


What Happens If You Let It Sit Out For Too Long? 

If you leave leftover mac and cheese out for too long or overnight, the cheese (cream cheese or grated parmesan) can spoil quickly.

You’ll notice that your homemade mac may develop molds (the bluish-black spots). A foul odor may also be released, confirming rancidity. The mac and cheese’s smooth texture may also become granular. But have you ever wondered how restaurants keep the pasta from sticking?

4 Ways to Know If Mac & Cheese Has Gone Bad 

1. Unpleasant Smell

Spoiled mac and cheese will have an unpleasant odor, like a sour smell, as opposed to its usual creamy and cheesy aroma. You should discard it if it smells sour, rancid, or rotten.

The presence of cheese as the main ingredient imparts a weird smell, making it even tangier once it goes bad.
Read: How Long Can Cheesecake Sit Out In Car?

2. Sour Taste

Mac and cheese should have a creamy, cheesy, and savory flavor. Spoiled mac and cheese tastes sour and has unusual lumps in the cheese sauce.

Read: How Long Does Swiss Cheese Last In The Fridge?

3. Some Discoloration

There should be no discoloration in fresh mac and cheese. A good indication of spoilage is when it’s a faded green or gray color. 

Also, you’ll notice that a spoiled baked mac becomes dry. You don’t want to eat bad mac and cheese as it can lead to a severe stomachache or food poisoning.

4. Presence of Molds 


Mold growth is the most apparent sign that the mac and cheese combo has gone bad. If you notice any fuzzy white spots or green particles, do not eat your mac and throw it right away.

Mold forms when moisture is present [1]. Cheese, as a dairy product, forms colonies of bacteria when it goes bad, making a delicious mac and cheese look like a blob of mold. But does Kraft mac and cheese expire?

How Do You Keep It Fresh? 

To keep mac and cheese fresh, it must be stored properly. Here are a few tips:

  • After baking, your creamy mac and cheese should not be refrigerated immediately. Let it cool for a couple of hours at room temperature. Before freezing, use a freezer bag, aluminum foil, or an airtight container to store it.
  • Before storing, place the cheese-coated pasta in a sealed container. The reason for keeping it wrapped and airtight is to ensure that no moisture escapes and that the freshness and aroma of soft cheeses remain inside.

Note that no matter how much you enjoy mac and cheese, keep in mind that you should not use processed cheese [2] as much as possible. Many fast-food restaurants use cheddar cheese, which is not all-natural and is processed with chemicals, which can be harmful if stored for an extended period.

Read: Best Fast Food Mac And Cheese

Can I Freeze Mac & Cheese? 

You can freeze mac and cheese. When properly stored, mac and cheese can last three to five days in the fridge. It must be refrigerated in a shallow airtight container within two hours of cooking.

You can freeze it for longer shelf life. It will, however, retain its best quality for about one to two months. The quality will then begin to deteriorate. Find out how long bolognese will last in the fridge here.


Can mac and cheese be left out overnight?

No. It is not advisable to consume mac and cheese that’s been left out overnight. Cooked mac and cheese should not be left out for more than two hours, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Likewise, you should not eat Kraft mac left out overnight as no perishable food should sit on the fridge for more than two hours.

How do you thaw mac and cheese?

You can thaw a frozen mac and cheese in the refrigerator, microwave, or in cold water. The refrigerator is the best option, but it will take at least overnight to thaw hard cheeses.

Alternatively, you can defrost it in a sealed plastic bag in cold water or use the defrost setting on your microwave. Eat it immediately if you thaw the mac and cheese in the microwave or cold water.

How long can you leave a frozen mac and cheese out?

You can leave a frozen mac and cheese a bit longer than two hours, maybe three or four hours. Once that time has passed, it should be discarded. But as much as possible, you shouldn’t consume frozen mac and cheese after more than two hours.

What temperature is safe for mac and cheese?

The typical temperature range for mac and cheese is less than 40°F. A temperature scale ranging from 40°F to 104°F is also a reasonable temperature range. Temperatures above this range (the danger zone) are ideal for bacterial growth. As a result, keeping mac and cheese at a warm temperature should be avoided.

In Conclusion

Mac and cheese is popular in many households. Everyone loves this baking dish. From the classic mac with fun meats to the lasagna noodles with cheese powder and more cheese sauce, there are a lot of variations to try.

Just take note of the safety rules, like how to store mac and cheese properly to prevent food poisoning. When storing, keep it in sealed containers, and do not leave your mac and cheese out for no more than two hours.




Shari Mason

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